‘There will always be cover-up, and corruption, in big organisations … To speak up takes courage. To stand alone takes courage.’
In the late 1960s Kirily was a boarder in Grade 5 at a Catholic convent school in rural Queensland.
She recalled that some of the nuns were wonderful teachers, but others could be cruel. On one occasion, Kirily’s hand was cut open after being struck with the edge of a metal ruler.
Another time she was locked in a cupboard by the head of the convent – ‘I don’t know what I’d done’ – which has given her lifelong issues with claustrophobia.
Kirily came to the Royal Commission to report the parish priest, Tom Middock.
‘I don’t call him “Father”. He doesn’t deserve that title.’
Middock lived in the presbytery attached to the church, and girls from the school were required to make his bed and tidy his office.
‘It sort of started with him … like, he would grab you, and then release you. Catch and release, catch and release, holding you against your will. But then … he would hold you that bit longer … He’d grab the others too, it was sort of a game.’
Sometimes Middock would give a few of the girls driving lessons, and he would sit Kirily on his lap behind the steering wheel.
‘And I can just remember his breathing on the back of my neck changing. He used to shake, get the shakes, and then the hands … it would be going down my uniform or whatever, my clothes, following the contour of my body. It was always the right hand, the hand that was away from the [others].’
Kirily remembered feeling the priest become aroused as he touched her breast and moved his hand inside her school uniform.
‘Tom Middock had sort of thick lips, and he literally used to lick them, you know.’
Kirily was sexually abused by Middock for almost a year, until she became so frightened she told her parents. They believed her immediately and went to the Mother Superior, who arranged a meeting at which the priest and Kirily were also present.
Middock simply denied the allegations, and she was told to stay away from him.
Kirily doesn’t know if the other girls were told to stay away from the presbytery, or if Middock abused anyone else at the school. But she does remember that he remained at the parish for a while.
After leaving school, Kirily went to university and began a long and satisfying career. She became a wife and mother, but the marriage didn’t last. The sexual abuse had caused strong intimacy issues which didn’t improve until her late 30s, when she met the love of her life.
When he passed away in the 2000s, and Kirily lost several other close family members, she had counselling for severe depression. But she has never received any help for the childhood abuse.
A number of years later, after visiting the site of a notoriously cruel orphanage in Queensland, Kirily decided to contact the Royal Commission.
During her private session, she learnt that Tom Middock had been moved to that orphanage, where he was known to have abused many more children.
For Kirily, that makes the Catholic Church just as guilty as the priest himself.
When she spoke with the Commissioner, Kirily had two recommendations: the Church needs to reconsider the vow of celibacy; and children need to know that they can speak up about sexual abuse.
‘From the child’s point of view, they should know that there’s somewhere they can go and be heard. So many of them couldn’t tell their parents what was going on. Or were scared or, you know, controlled by these people. They were so scared, they were threatened, you know. I’m just thankful for my parents …
‘I have no doubt, if I hadn’t told my parents, it would’ve kept escalating.’
‘I don’t see myself as a victim. I acknowledge that it happened … The good of my education and schooling, and the beautiful people I met, far outweigh, well, him.’